The Holy Land
Holly skidded to a stop. Pete's conjoined over-easy eggs slid from the plate. A couple of chunks of home fried potatoes tumbled after them for a meeting on the floor.
"Oh shit!" Holly blurted.
Pete, turning from the Tyn to his ruined breakfast, echoed her sentiment, as the alien quartet grinned, nodded, then chirped and hissed to each other in their language, trying to decide guessing from their gestures whether to take the booth by the front window or the one nestled into a cozy back corner.
With strangers not many in this town Holly would normally have done a greet and seat. Not this time. She turned a crisp military about-face and marched back to the kitchen, leaving Pete's eggs bleeding yellow yolk on the floor as she banged through the swinging door into the kitchen.
"Holly!" I called to her as she made a bee-line to the back office.
She slammed the door, and through it I heard a wordless scream full of rage. I turned back to the dining room, peered through the service window as the four Tyn veered around the squished eggs, each of the girls giving the mess, in turn, hungry appraisals.
Angelina the ex-Holy land Security guard who'd written me up for balling the Tyn room maids way back when; who'd quit the place two months after Holly and I, and followed us to Mendocino at Holly's urging took the Tyn four menus. They waved her off. She clipped back to the counter, black curls bouncing, her face as pale raw biscuit dough. I looked a question at her through the service window. "Coffee," she said. "All they want is coffee."
I wiped my hands on a damp towel, grabbed a broom and dust pan and went out to clean up the mess on the floor; then I fixed Pete another plate and delivered it myself. Holly remained in the office. Angelina poured refills at arm's length for the white-haired foursome in the corner booth; and with my order wheel empty, I stepped out the front door into a cleansing embrace of the cold fog, to calm my nerves with one of those cheap little plastic-tipped cigars I'd been trying to give up.
I lit up to the serenade of the barking of the sea lions from the rookery in the sandy, cobble stone-studded cove a mile north, the grunts carrying so that they sounded as if they were in the parking lot with me. Rudy Navarro followed me out, bummed a smoke and my lighter from me, puffed his cigar to life, nodded back at the cafe and said, "They give me the damned creeps."
"Hey guys, can I get a light from you?" It was a little guy in a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt and generic ball cap, emerging from tuft of cold fog. Rudy tossed him my lighter; he fired a cigarette up, took a long contemplative puff and said, "Waitin' on the ladies."
"Ladies?" I said.
The little guy shrugged, said, "Yep, those Tyn girls just went inside." He looked at my apron. "You the cook, huh?"
I nodded, noting that his head seemed a shade too small the baseball cap rode low enough to cover the top halves of his ears. He shivered in the clammy dampness, drew on his cigarette again and he said to me, "They probably ain't gonna want no food from ya."
Rudy dragged on his cigar and asked the little-headed man, "So, what are you, riding with 'em, an escort or something?"
"Nope," said little head. "I'm their driver. Safari driver."
A guttural bark sliced through the fog. Little head jumped and said, "Christ, that sounded like he was sitting over behind my van."
"It carries in the fog," Rudy informed him. "The rookery's a mile up the beach."
The driver tossed his cigarette butt down. It hit my pot-holed parking lot in a small orange explosion. "I know," said the Giants fan. "That's where we're headed"
"Safari?" I asked him. "You said you were a safari driver?"
The man pulled another smoke from behind his ear, used my lighter that he hadn't given back, drew deeply and said, "Yeah, these girls, let me tell you, they got a taste for fresh meat."
A small brief thinning of the fog revealed a white van behind the small man, with red lettering on its side: Fresh Meat Safaris.
"Christ alive, man," Rudy said. "You're gonna take those flying saucer queens up there to kill a sea lion? And eat him?"
The man shrugged, blew out a plume of smoke. "I don't do the killin'. With the sea lions, they eat 'em alive."
"Jesus," Rudy said.
An image of a big, bewhiskered, bloody slug-like sea creature writhing toward the surf as a pack of Tyn took turns darting in to tear off chunks flesh played in my mind.
"With elk and moose, and animals like that, Fresh Meat sends out a shooter, to wound 'em first," the driver said. "Bring 'em down. But with sea lions layin' on a beach, they can catch 'em themselves." He turned toward the sound of barking, then back to us. "I tell ya," he said, a look of wonder lighting his face, "it's something to see."
I'd have let it go, let the slaughter happen. But the Angelina burst out of a swirl of fog with a shrill-toned question: "Do you know what they're going to do?" The cafe's cartoon seal lion logo that Holly had designed rose and fell on the swell of her indignant breathing, as if it were riding an incoming swell, "they're going to go down there and find a baby and eat it!" Angelina nearly growled.
Rudy and I must not have had the appearance of men about to burst into action to save the day. Angelina grunted wordlessly and cut and tunnel through the fog that closed back up around her with a swirling gray turbulence.
"She's going to tell Holly," I surmised.
"No shit," said Rudy.
Holly met us at the front door, her face full of hard angles and devoid of blood.
The Tyn girls chittered, giddy with excitement, as they swooped around us, out of the cafe. The fog swallowed them, and Holly grabbed the front of my shirt with one hand and punched my chest with the other. "We're stopping them!"
"How," I said, trying to cook up a scheme of non-involvement.
"Rudy," she spit at me, casting a quick peremptory look in his direction that froze the man in place. "Rudy's got guns."
Indeed he did. Rudy's edible herbs thing was a front; marijuana was his meat and potatoes, grown lush and tall in the dark fertile soil in the nooks between Mendocino's rolling coastal hills on his ten-acre spread four miles back from Highway 101. Sometimes, to protect his cash crop, Rudy needed guns. His truck had a rack in its back window, with some sort of high-caliber rifle and two shotguns in it. Holly pounded my chest again for my wordless stalling and repeated what would become the truth: "We're stopping them!"
Published November 2007